HE SE PUEDE

No Joke: Trump Can Win Plenty of Latinos

A new poll of Latino GOPers puts Trump ahead. Way ahead. And yes, there’s an explanation, in the fault lines within the Latino community.

02.12.16 5:01 AM ET

Latinos for Trump? Oh yeah, that’s a thing.

Keep in mind three points. First, you have to understand that we’re talking here primarily about Latino Republicans, many of whom might live in red states such as Arizona or Texas. Those Latinos who are Democrats (as about 80 percent of them are, according to surveys) are busy dividing up their support between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with most of it going to Clinton.

Also, when you look at the slate of Republicans running for president—which recently got shorter with the departures of several candidates after Iowa and New Hampshire—you have to consider what is behind Door No. 2. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush can be expected to do well with Latinos. Ted Cruz might even do better than expected with those voters. Beyond that, it’s slim pickings, and so Trump might not look so bad.

Finally, if it’s true that Trump is inspiring voters who feel alienated and abandoned by the political process, then the fact that there might be Latinos who support Trump makes sense. America’s largest minority knows about alienation and abandonment. So they are no more immune than other voters to what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley described as Trump’s “siren call.” What he’s saying and how he is saying it may be resonating with many Latino voters.

A new poll confirms it. In the national survey, which was conducted by Beck Research on behalf of the American Federation for Children, 38 percent of Latinos favor Trump. Ted Cruz got 15 percent. Jeb Bush pulled in 14 percent. And Marco Rubio, the guy who’s supposed to be the one who could unite the party and win? Just 8 percent.

There is also anecdotal information, including conversations I’ve had in recent months with Latino friends who are leaning toward voting for Trump.

There are also the emails I receive from readers like Ernesto Villareal, a Texas Latino who referred to himself as an “Orgulloso Tejano Americano.” Villareal wrote the following: “I have voted Democratic all my life. However, it will be a cold day in hell if I will vote for Mrs. Clinton. I strongly believe that Mr. Trump is the one to turn this great country of ours in the right direction.”

Or the one I got recently from another reader named Chuck Castillo, who wrote this after I bashed Trump: “You never get it, do you? Trump, himself, is not the issue. Do you really believe that Trump hates Latinos? What you should be paying attention to is that so many Americans agree with what he said. That so many Americans agree with what Trump says is indicative that immigrants have lost in the court of public opinion and that’s where they had to win.”

And what exactly has Trump said about immigrants and Mexican immigrants in particular? It wasn’t good.

The meme that Trump is anti-immigrant or anti-Mexican got its start right out of the gate on June 16, 2015, when the real estate mogul announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He was trying to make the point that the United States was being taken advantage of by other countries. He went about it in entirely the wrong way.

“When do we beat Mexico at the border?” Trump asked. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems…When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump later doubled down on those comments by promising to build a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico, and send our neighbor the bill. He implied that he would do this by taxing Mexican imports. He also talked about creating a “deportation force” to forcibly remove every last one of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States back to their home countries.

To be fair, Trump has also—to the chagrin of nativists in the GOP—said that, in the case of Mexico, he would put “a door” in that giant border where immigrants could re-enter legally. But that point was obscured because liberals didn’t want to give Trump credit for complexity, and conservatives preferred to think of him as more solidly in line with their desire to give the undocumented immigrants a one-way ticket out of the country with no return.

That’s how the narrative of “Trump the Anti-Mexican Nativist” was born. Before long, other Hispanics—Cuban-Americans, Dominican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Salvadorans, etc.—began to weigh in, and most took the side of the Mexicans. In an occurrence that almost never happens, the Latino community closed ranks in opposition to Trump.

In August 2015, Gallup released a survey that found only 14 percent of Latinos had a positive view of Trump while 65 percent had a negative view.

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But lately, something has changed. In politics, as in life, time heals wounds. And while Latinos haven’t forgotten what Trump said about Mexican immigrants being criminals and rapists, and how he wants to deport 11 million people, they have begun to put such comments in the context of a candidate who, it often seems, has offended just about everyone in this country.

And interestingly enough, with most Puerto Ricans and Dominican-Americans solidly in the Democratic camp, and Cuban-Americans splitting their allegiance between Rubio and Cruz, it is in the Mexican-American community in the Southwest where you are most likely to find Latinos lining up with Trump.

They’re in red states like Texas and Arizona, and the battleground state of Colorado. There’s a lot they like about Trump, including his independence, plainspokenness, success in business, and disdain for political correctness. They see him as strong and resolute, and not having to cater to moneyed interests since he is self-funding his campaign. And either they don’t buy the idea that he is anti-Mexican, or they don’t care.

Let’s not forget that the relationship between U.S.-born Latinos and Latino immigrants, and even between foreign-born Latinos who have been naturalized and Latino immigrants, is complicated to say the least. There is an ambivalence there.

As a Mexican-American, I can tell you that many Mexican-Americans think that Mexican immigrants who come to the United States illegally are taking advantage—of a porous border, of the social-services safety net, of loopholes in immigration law, and of an insatiable appetite among U.S. employers for cheap and dependable labor. And they’re not wrong about that.

That’s a problem. Trump isn’t the solution. But there are some Latinos who give him credit for even starting the conversation.

So, as the voting moves to the Southwest, don’t be surprised to hear more about a new meme: “Latinos for Trump.” And guess what? Given Trump’s genius for marketing, you can be bet that there will be a version in Spanish.

It’s a new mundo. And a complicated one at that.